After Garner, Brown Rulings, Bring MLK’s Words to Mind

Protest in New York in August. (Photo: John Minchillo, AP)
Protest in New York in August.
(Photo: John Minchillo, AP)

Despite our outrage over grand jury decisions, King preached ‘loving your enemies.’

Thinking about Michael Brown and Eric Garner reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies.” In light of the protests around the nation this weekend, including one in Berkeley, Calif., that turned violent, following grand jury decisions not to charge the white police officers in each case, we would do well to reflect on King’s message.

“Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good,” King preached. “When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals.”

King was talking about the need to maintain an attitude of unconditional love, tolerance and respect, even while protesting injustice and the lack of equal treatment under the law.

“When you rise to the level of love,” King preached, “you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

King was also acknowledging that people are comprised of complex, conflicting desires. Yet in most of us, there is a place where we can connect in our humanity, even if only narrowly and briefly, to resolve differences and broker peaceful compromises. This delicate but crucial balance has sometimes been missing in Ferguson, Mo., and could be in jeopardy in New York and other cities where justice is being debated.

I share the outrage over the grand jury decisions in these cases. While Brown and Garner each were suspected of some level of criminal activity, their deaths at the hands of police officers permanently denied them the chance to challenge such suspicions in a court of law. Both were unarmed, and their alleged crimes surely didn’t rise to a level that justified deadly force.

But it’s also true that riots and looting absolutely are the wrong response to their deaths and subsequent grand jury decisions, no matter how wrong we may think they are.

And while the Rev. Al Sharpton and various other political and religious leaders deserve great credit for continuously urging calm, it has been painful to see that some have still opted for violence.

King certainly had a right to be angry in 1957 when he preached this message to his congregation at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. He had already been jailed and faced the venom of segregationists for leading the successful Montgomery bus boycott. Much worse, his Montgomery home was bombed, endangering his wife, Coretta, and baby daughter, Yolanda.

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SOURCE: USA Today – David Person

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